Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of DARK WATERS

Dark Waters, rated PG-13
***

Dark Waters is a film inspired by the real-life legal battle against DuPont over the release of a toxic chemical in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs), and based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.
Robert Bilott, played by three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Foxcatcher, The Kids Are Alright), is a Cincinnati, Ohio attorney on the environmental team, and new partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, a firm that represents major corporations. He is interrupted during an important meeting by Wilbur Tennant, played by Emmy nominee Bill Camp (The Night Of), who lives in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Bilott’s grandmother’s hometown. Robert’s grandmother had told Tennant to go see Bilott about the cattle on his farm that were dying. Tennant is convinced that DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, has poisoned a stream on his farm that the cattle drink from. Bilott tells Tennant that he is a corporate defense attorney who defends chemical companies, not individuals. But after visiting his grandmother, Bilott decides to look into Tennant’s situation. What he finds is that 190 of Tennant’s cattle have died. Robert makes the decision to take Tennant’s case. Continue reading


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My Review of AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Avengers: Endgame, rated PG-13
****

Avengers: Endgame, a highly anticipated film, brings to an end the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) storyline that began with 2008’s Iron Man, and has continued now through 22 films and all of those mid and post-credits scenes that we have sat and waited for. The three-hour film will satisfy MCU fans, as it looks back on the previous films and characters, but it does contain some content concerns that you will want to be aware of.
The film is directed by brothers and Emmy winners Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Arrested Development) and written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers). While the film had an estimated budget of approximately $400 million, it made a record-setting $350 million in the U.S. opening weekend, and an incredible $1.2 billion worldwide.
2018’s Avengers: Infinity War ended somberly with the formidable villain Thanos, voiced by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk), finally possessing all of the six Infinity Stones that he had been seeking. Thanos, who says he is Inevitable, then used the power he gained from the stones to snap his fingers and wipe out half of all existence, including superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and many more.
Avengers: Endgame opens with a family picnic scene in which the family of Clint Barton/Hawkeye, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Town, The Hurt Locker), suddenly disappears due to the snap. The film then moves forward about three weeks after “the snap”. Continue reading


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My Review of THOR: RAGNAROK

THOR: RAGNAROK, rated PG-13
****

THOR: RAGNAROK, the latest film from Marvel Studios and the third Thor film is an enjoyable action-packed Marvel film with a great cast that contains a lot of humor.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Taika Waititi (Two Cars, One Night) and written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. The film has a different feel than previous Thor films, more like a Guardians of the Galaxy film. It includes a lot of humor and some classic rock music by Led Zeppelin. The soundtrack is done by co-founder of the New Wave band Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh. The film has a loose feel, with an amazing 80% of the dialogue being improvised. The film had an estimated budget of $180 million and opened at $120 million in its first weekend in the U.S.
As the film opens, we see that Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, known as the “God of Thunder”, has been captured by a large demon named Surtur, voiced by Clancy Brown. Thor steals the crown Surtur is wearing, which is the key to Ragnarok (an apocalyptic battle in Norse prophesy) being unleashed on Thor’s home Asgard, which will result in total destruction. As Thor returns to Asgard, he finds that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been impersonating his father King Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for Silence of the Lambs, who Loki has sent to Earth. Thor is furious with Loki, and the two go to Earth to find Odin. There they encounter Doctor Strange, played by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) who directs them to Odin, who is in Norway and near death. Before he dies, he tells the brothers that they have an older sister, Hela, played by six-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator). Hela is known as “The Goddess of Death”.  At one time she teamed with Odin before he became a man of peace and goodness. Odin tells his sons that upon his death, Hela will return to Asgard and take control; and that is just what she does. Blanchett is excellent as the villain Hela.
Skurge, played by Karl Urban (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings) joins Hela in the takeover of Asgard.
Thor is sent to a planet called Sakaar, where he is captured by Valkyrie, a former Asgardian warrior who is now a bounty hunter who drinks a lot, played by Tessa Thompson (Creed).  Valkyrie takes Thor to the Grandmaster, played well by Oscar nominee Jeff Goldblum (Little Surprises). The Grandmaster uses Thor to compete in his arena against his reigning champion, none other than the Hulk, played by three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, who also plays Bruce Banner. The Hulk has been on Sakaar for two years, and likes it there.
Can Thor, Hulk and Valkyrie get back to Asgard to save it from Hela and annihilation? They will be assisted by Heimdall, played by Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).
Content issues include some totally unnecessary adult language, the expected Marvel action violence, and brief rear male nudity, which is played for laughs. The film includes themes of family, sacrifice, friendship and forgiveness.
I thoroughly enjoyed THOR: RAGNAROK. It was a fast-moving, well-acted, entertaining and funny film.


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Movie Review ~ Now You See Me 2

Now You See Me 2Now You See Me 2
***

The sequel to the 2013 film Now You See Me finds the Four Horsemen – Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan), (who replaces Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves from the first film as Fisher was pregnant when the film was being made)  laying low a year after their Robin Hood-style heist. The “Fifth Horseman”, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) gets direction for the Horsemen from the mysterious The Eye organization, while pretending to his FBI bosses to be trying to bring in the Horsemen, to the doubts of some in the organization.

The Horsemen plan to come out of hiding at the launch of a new mobile phone that will be able to steal the privacy of those who use it. Instead, a trick is played on them, and they end up in Macau, China, “the Las Vegas of China”, having been kidnapped by billionaire Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who the public assumes has been dead for a year. Mabry needs them to use their skills to steal a priceless computer circuit known as “the stick”, which can de-encrypt any computer on the planet, for him.  Merritt’s irritating twin brother, also played by Harrelson, is out for revenge and is assisting Mabry.  To prepare for their assignment, the Horsemen visit the world’s oldest magic shop, run by Li (Jay Chou) and his mother Bu Bu (Tsai Chin).

The film centers on a thirty-year connection between magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and Rhodes, who Rhodes put in prison at the end of the last film. Michael Caine, the group’s patron in the first film, returns as billionaire Arthur Tressler.

The film contains much to enjoy, including the Macau and London locations, the dialogue and chemistry among the Horsemen and magical sleight of hand aided by excellent camera work and computer generated imagery (CGI). There is much going on in the film and it contains a lot of twists and turns. Like the best magic acts, things are not always as you think they are based on what you have seen with your eyes. There are certainly holes in the script, and I was particularly disappointed with the ending, but still found the film to be entertaining overall.

The film features a strong cast with two Oscar winners (Freeman and Caine) and three Oscar nominees (Eisenberg, Ruffalo and Harrelson). It is directed by Jon M. Chu (Louis Leterrier directed the first film), and is written by Ed Solomon, who also wrote the screenplay for the first film.

Content concerns include some adult language and some abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names.

We will see the Horsemen again, as Now You See Me 3 has been announced.


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My Review of the Movie ~ Infinitely Polar Bear

Infinitely Polar BearInfinitely Polar Bear, rated R
*** ½

This film is written and directed by first-time director Maya Forbes, based on the events of her own childhood growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When Forbes was 6, her father who was manic-depressive/bi-polar, had a series of mental breakdowns, leading to her parent’s separation.

In the film, Mark Ruffalo, one of our better actors (Spotlight, Foxcatcher), delivers perhaps his best performance yet as Cam Stuart. And that’s saying a lot, as I believe he delivered an Oscar worthy performance in Spotlight. The title of the film (Polar Bear), is a play on bi-polar.

The chain-smoking Cam from a respected New England family was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder in 1967. Maggie, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy), was aware of his condition when she married him. The couple has two young girls – 12 year old Amelia, played by Forbe’s real-life daughter Imogene Wolodarsky, and based on Forbes herself, and 10 year old Faith, played by Ashley Aufderheide.

Cam has a significant meltdown in 1978 and is hospitalized. The family’s life will not be the same after that, with Maggie eventually moving to New York for eighteen months to get her MBA, coming home most weekends, while Cam looks after the girls (something he probably never should have been asked to do), who have to grow up faster than they should.

Cam is an excellent cook and very resourceful (fixing things in their crowded apartment, pulling an all-nighter sewing a dress for Faith’s school talent show the next day, etc.). He can be overly-friendly to the other residents of the apartment building and he and his daughters can really give it to each other, including a lot of foul language. They are embarrassed of him and their messy apartment, but they love him as well. At times the film is touching and funny, and yet when Cam, who isn’t good at taking his medicine, has his meltdowns, it’s also painful to watch.

The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language and the subject matter of mental illness. Forbes has stated that she wanted to make a film “that was funny, sad, authentic, and warm. I wanted a humane film about the effects of mental illness on a family. I wanted to see resilient children. I wanted to see a movie about love and the hard choices people have to make every day.” I would have to say that she succeeded in her aspirations. The film shows a dysfunctional family trying to make things work. Although it was certainly hard to watch during the times Cam would have his meltdowns, Ruffalo’s excellent performance makes this a film you may want to see; it is now available on DVD.


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Movie Review ~ Spotlight

SpotlightSpotlight, rated R
****

This powerful film is directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by Josh Singer and McCarthy (who has an Oscar nomination for writing Up), and is about the Spotlight team from the Boston Globe. They are an investigative reporting arm of the Globe who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by priests in Boston. The film opens with a brief scene from 1976 where we see a priest being whisked away in a long black car. The film then fast forwards to 2001 when Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who is Jewish, becomes the new editor of the Globe in the predominantly Catholic city. He asks Water “Robby” Robinson” (Michael Keaton, in his follow-up to his Oscar nominated performance in 2014’s Birdman), the editor of the Spotlight team, to look into the archdiocese’s handling of child abuse cases.

Robinson’s excellent Spotlight team consists of Michael Rezendes (two-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo in another Oscar worthy performance), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They are fully committed to this story, to the point that they don’t really have any personal lives. But this story is not just about a few priests, or even 87 priests who have abused children, but an entire church organization/system led by Cardinal Law (Len Cariou). That’s why Baron pushes Globe Managing Deputy Editor Ben Bradley Jr. (John Slattery), Robinson and the Spotlight team – to pursue and prove Cardinal Law’s knowledge and cover-up of the abuse.

Along the way we meet a few of the abuse victims and their recollections which are at times graphic and always heartbreaking. We also meet attorneys on both sides of the issue Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) and Mitchell Garabedian (Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci) who are aware of what has been going on. Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) and Pete Conley (Paul Guilfoyle) are part of the church machine that strongly encourages Robinson to look the other way. We are told of the significant power the Catholic Church has in Boston including the close relationship the church has with the legal, law enforcement and media, highlighted by an uncomfortable “meet and greet” Cardinal Law has with Baron.

What makes this film significant is the story – the cover-up that the Globe successfully exposed in more than 600 stories. What makes the film great are the strong acting performances, led by Ruffalo. McCarthy’s direction and the excellent script from McCarthy and Singer keeps things moving and I found myself emotionally pulled into the story and injustice that had been allowed to go on. Along the way we see what the abuse and cover-up does to the Catholic faith of Rezendes and Pfeiffer.

The film ends with a list of the cities in the world in which significant abuse has been uncovered, including one 45 minutes from my home.

The film is rated “R” for adult language and the subject matter of sexual abuse of children. It is quite simply one of the best films of 2015.